Coming out… Orthodox
It has been far too long since my last post. I apologize for my absence and am hoping that in the next few months I can make up for it. First off I have a confession to make: On Homosexuality As a Choice, and the One Choice We Are All Called to Make was in fact my own. After my first two posts on my experience with a homosexual orientation (here & here), I decided to lay low for a while. Pete was kind enough to post that short reflection for me so that I could lay low on the Internet for my senior year at college. Since it was posted, I have been overwhelmed at the over 800 views it has received. This, among other things, has made me realize how important it is to break my silence. My voice as an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a gay orientation is something that the world desperately needs to hear. It is a very difficult subject to understand and I’ve spent the last several years reading, listening, and discussing this subject. Out of my own experience and the experiences of others, I have begun to more deeply understand this divisive subject. For a while I had hoped that maybe someone else older and wiser than myself might take up this call, but I’ve recently been convicted that if I don’t speak, no one will. The topic of homosexuality and the Church’s approach to ministering to LGBT/SSA (SSA=same-sex attracted) persons has to be addressed. I pray that God uses my voice and the voices of my brothers and sisters in Christ to help increase understanding and build a deeper community within the Eastern Orthodox Church and Christendom as a whole. In the future I hope to write about why I believe the Church’s approach to LGBT/SSA individuals is so important, reorientation therapy and current psychological research, language and labels, gay-marriage, and why I’m unconvinced by “affirming” views of scripture. For now I want to share just a few reflections with you.
The topic of language and identity increasingly has been in the spotlight within the gay Christian community, particularly over the use of the word gay. When I first began sharing my same-sex orientation, I avoided all use of the label “gay” out of other’s fear that I would be placing my identity in my sexuality. I was afraid of being seen as one of “them,” if I was merely an SSA struggler then I was safe, but as soon as I would mention the word gay everything seemed to change. Over the last year, I have grown in my own use of the label gay to describe an aspect of myself to others. This has not come about because my belief that I am a person created in the image and likeness of God has changed. That conviction is still at the very core of who I am, but I increasingly found language that avoided the word gay was often off-putting. Especially when I interact with other gay men and women my refusal to share language that described our mutual same-sex orientation created barriers to our relationship and to understanding. These were barriers I now see as unnecessary and a matter of linguistics rather than identity.
The phrase “I am gay” means no more than simply, “I am someone who experiences a same-sex orientation.” My gay orientation, I believe, is the result of the fall but in and of itself it is not something sinful, rather it is a morally neutral inclination. Lust is the sin and gay is merely the flavor of that lust. All sexual behavior outside of the context of sacramental marriage falls outside of God’s intent for His creation. The fact that the Christian church has traditionally believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman means that for me, there is no hallowed outlet for my desire for deep, physical intimacy with another man. Where my gay orientation can be damaging to my relationship with Christ is when my thoughts stray, and lust comes into play. Being gay merely changes the flavor of that lust and does not add an additional weight of sin to it. My fight against the passion of lust is the same as any other persons, gay or straight. My unique vocation is however deeply connected with my gay orientation. By following the traditional understanding of the Orthodox Church, I am accepting that there is a high likely hood that I will be single throughout my life. This will have unique challenges and hurdles but none that the Church is not prepared to tackle. My deepest struggle is that when I look to the Church as a body of people representing Christ I am greatly discouraged.
I am discouraged because I find a deep lack of understanding and of compassion. For many, same-sex marriage is something to fight politically , often creating the impression that the Church’s only discussion of homosexuality is entirely negative. Instead the Church can offer an understanding of each individual’s vocation that is deeply influenced and impacted by their individual trials, orientation, upbringing, history, etc… Vocation is a positive thing, and for many who struggle to live faithfully to the Church’s teachings on homosexual behavior it will be connected with their singleness. Single persons both gay and straight look to the Church to offer community, guidance, safety, and most importantly love. Parishes that become a real family for their members will inevitably be places of honesty, compassion, and intimacy, anchored in the sacramental life of the Church. Every person desires intimacy and the Church has always had the potential to offer the chance to be deeply known and deeply loved. Too often I’ve seen that potential blocked by countless complications related to ethnicity, pride, bigotry and selfishness. When our parishes function as real places of honesty and openness, gay individuals will be free to be known and loved by their parish for the unique person that they are. Their talents, gifts, and abilities will find their unique place within the parish. By being honest about my own gay orientation I have witnessed the deep power that can come from being loved for who I uniquely am.
In conclusion, I encourage each of you readers to pursue deeper relationships with those around you. Strive to be a person who is approachable and compassionate. Foster honest community by growing to a place where you can share some of your own struggles and others can feel safe sharing theirs. Seek to go beyond the surface in relationships and strive to understand the unique person behind the labels and stereotypes. Whether gay or straight we can each benefit from a deeper understanding of the Church as family and working towards a place of greater intimacy. We can each come before God together in worship and know that we are known and loved by God as well as by our brothers and sisters. Together we can all journey together with “fear of God, faith, and with love.”
You can follow my writing and other thoughts on my Twitter www.twitter.com/orthodoxandgay where I post frequently with links and articles on this topic.